|2 more biographical reviews for two midget and sprint car racers by Richard Parks (12/16/04)|
Greetings. Here are two more biographical reviews for two midget and
sprint car racers from the
past. Both live in the Southern California area and I see them from time
Danny Oakes was born in Santa Barbara, California, in 1911 and moved to
the Los Angeles area in the early 1930's to pursue a racing career. California was one of the
major racing areas during the Depression, with over a hundred tracks in the Los Angeles area alone.
Weather, Hollywood, a large and avid car racing population and large prize winnings played a
part in the success of auto racing on the West Coast. Here racers from across the country could
congregate in the numerous repair shops and get a head start for that year's racing. While the rest
of the country was in the grips of cold, snow and rain, race car owners and drivers were busy winning
races in sunny California.
Then as the nation slowly warmed up, these California race teams exploded
eastward and northward as the country's tracks and racing seasons began to open. Oakes was one
of those Depression era drivers who knew how to win a race. He always said that a good driver
knows how to finish a race. He sneered at all of the hotshot drivers of those days who "had a lead
foot, and not much else." He always told me that there was no use in winning races if you destroyed
your car and yourself in the process. He drove cautiously, biding his time, waiting like a shark for
that school of fish, and at theend of the race he knew exactly when and where to make his move. Danny
believed in conditioning.
He was a generation ahead of his time in keeping fit. While others were
at the saloons, Danny was out walking or dancing. Dancing, he always told me, kept him fit and
endeared him to the ladies.
Perry Grimm won more than his share of races, but often found Oakes to be
his most dangerous competitor. "Weren't you tired," said Grimm, "you beat me in that last
lap." Oakes would tease his competitor and say, "No, I had another 100 laps in me." Danny won the
1945 Turkey Night Grand Prix and 3 West Coast Midget Championships along with numerous other
races in his career, but struggled at the Indy 500. "Just didn't have enough car for me," he said
on many occasions. But as a chief mechanic, he put many people into the winners circle. As good a
race car driver as Danny Oakes was, he was by far one of the best mechanics to have ever worked on
a race car.
Ralph Foster came storming out of the Midwest, winning the 1940 Midwest
Sprint car and Midget Championships. He won 69 races that year. Race car drivers were a tough
breed back in the Depression Era. Prize money was small by today's winnings, and promoters
often fled the track with what gate receipts that they had rather than pay off the drivers.
Racers went from track to track, city to city, sometimes racing 6 or 7 times or more a week. They
played the odds back then. Racers never trashed their cars, or strained their parts. They had to
run whenever and wherever there was a race, and they had to last and win whatever they could, then
carefully manage their winnings in order to keep their cars in future races. Foster was one of
the best, but also had one of the shortest careers. Pearl Harbor stopped racing in its tracks for
four long years, and by the time Ralph had finished with the war as an Army fighter pilot, there was
a family and a career waiting for him, and his racing days were over. Foster flew all over the
world and then developed an aerial photography business that he is still busy at, though he turned
90 this year (2004). Ralph, like so many other great drivers of the world, had rides waiting at Indy
that disappeared like phantoms because of World War II. Those men never begrudged their fate.
They knew that their war time service was necessary to preserve our freedoms and they were
willing to pay whatever it took, placing their lives on the line. Ralph also served with the
forestry service and fought forest fires. He flew as a consultant with the Ecuadorian Air Force. Foster
flew into Amazonian rain forests in search of archaeological ruins. He flew Playboy bunnies to
Las Vegas, and lobsters from Alaska to Southern California. But he still is not through with cars,
and joined the SCTA Gear Grinders land speed car club with the intention of building a streamliner
and breaking a record or two.